to the new order of things, and while stern measures were taken to suppress treasonable plotting against the constitution, the uniform policy of the government in ecclesiastical matters was one of toleration. James I. caused the Supremacy Act to be rigorously enforced, but on political rather than on religious grounds. In distant parts of Ireland, indeed, the unreformed order of service was often used without interference from the secular authority, although the bishops had openly accepted the Act of Uniformity.
The episcopal succession, then, was unbroken at the Reformation. The Marian prelates are admitted on all hands to have been the true bishops of the Church, and in every case they were followed by a line of lawful successors, leading down to the present occupants of the several sees. The rival lines of Roman Catholic titulars are not in direct succession to the Marian bishops, and cannot be regarded as continuous with the medieval Church. The question of the continuity of the pre-Reformation Church with the Church of the Celtic period before the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland is more difficult. Ten out of eleven archbishops of Armagh who held office between 1272 and 1439 were consecrated outside Ireland, and there is no evidence forthcoming that any one of them derived his apostolic succession through bishops of the Irish Church. It may be stated with confidence that the present Church of Ireland is the direct and legitimate successor of the Church of the 14th and 15th centuries, but it cannot so clearly be demonstrated that any existing organization is continuous with the Church of St Patrick. In the reign of James I. the first Convocation of the clergy was summoned in Ireland, of which assembly the most notable act was the adoption of the “Irish Articles” (1615). These had been drawn up by Usher, and were more decidedly Calvinistic in tone than the Thirty-nine Articles, which were not adopted as standards in Ireland until 1634, when Strafford forced them on Convocation. During the Commonwealth period the bishoprics which became vacant were not filled; but on the accession of Charles II. the Church was strengthened by the translation of John Bramhall (the most learned and zealous of the prelates) from Derry to the primatial see of Armagh, and the consecration of twelve other bishops, among whom was Jeremy Taylor. The short period during which the policy of James II. prevailed in Ireland was one of disaster to the Church; but under William and Mary she regained her former position. She had now been reformed for more than 100 years, but had made little progress; and the tyrannical provisions of the Penal Code introduced by the English government made her more unpopular than ever. The clergy, finding their ministrations unacceptable to the great mass of the population, were tempted to indolence and non-residence; and although bright exceptions could be named, there was much that called for reform. To William King (1650-1729), bishop of Derry, and subsequently archbishop of Dublin, it was mainly due that the work of the Church was reorganized, and the impulse which he gave it was felt all through the 18th century. His ecclesiastical influence was exerted in direct opposition to Primate Hugh Boulter and his school, who aimed at making the Established Church the instrument for the promotion of English political opinions rather than the spiritual home of the Irish people. In 1800 the Act of Union was passed by the Legislature; and thenceforward, until Disestablishment, there was but one “United Church of England and Ireland.”
Continuous agitation for the removal of Roman Catholic disabilities brought about in 1833 the passing of the Church Temporalities Act, one of the most important provisions of which was the reduction of the number of Irish archbishoprics from four to two, and of bishoprics from eighteen to ten, the funds thus released being administered by commissioners. In 1838 the Tithe Rentcharge Act, which transferred the payment of tithes from the occupiers to the owners of land, was passed, and thus a substantial grievance was removed. It became increasingly plain, however, as years passed, that all such measures of relief were inadequate to allay the dissatisfaction felt by the majority of Irishmen because of the continued existence of the Established Church. Her position had been pledged to her by the Act of Union, and she was undoubtedly the historical representative of the ancient Church of the land; but such arguments proved unavailing in view of the visible fact that she had not gained the affections of the people. The census of 1861 showed that out of a total population of 5,798,967 only 693,357 belonged to the Established Church, 4,505,265 being Roman Catholics; and once this had been made clear, the passing of the Act of Disestablishment was only a question of time. Introduced by Mr Gladstone, and passed in 1869, it became law on the 1st of January 1871.
The Church was thus suddenly thrown on her own resources, and called on to reorganize her ecclesiastical system, as well as to make provision for the maintenance of her future clergy. A convention of the bishops, clergy, and laity was summoned in 1870, and its first act was to declare the adherence of the Church of Ireland to the ancient standards, and her determination to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, while reaffirming her witness, as Protestant and Reformed, against the innovations of Rome. Under the constitution then agreed on, the supreme governing body of the Church is the General Synod, consisting of the bishops and of 208 clerical and 416 lay representatives of the several dioceses, whose local affairs are managed by subordinate Diocesan Synods. The bishops are elected as vacancies arise, and, with certain restrictions, by the Diocesan Synods, the Primate, whose see is Armagh, being chosen by the bishops out of their own number. The patronage of benefices is vested in boards of nomination, on which both the diocese and the parish are represented. The Diocesan Courts, consisting of the bishop, his chancellor, and two elected members, one clerical and the other lay, deal as courts of first instance with legal questions; but there is an appeal to the Court of the General Synod, composed of three bishops and four laymen who have held judicial office. During the years 1871 to 1878 the revision of the Prayer Book mainly occupied the attention of the General Synod; but although many far-reaching resolutions were proposed by the then predominant Evangelical party, few changes of moment were carried, and none which affected the Church’s doctrinal position. A two-thirds majority of both the lay and clerical vote is necessary before any change can be made in the formularies, and an ultimate veto rests, on certain conditions, with the house of bishops.
The effects of Disestablishment have been partly good and partly evil. On the one hand, the Church has now all the benefits of autonomy and is free from the anomalies incidental to state control. Her laws are definite, and the authority of her judicial courts is recognized by all her members. The place given to the laity in her synods has quickened in them the sense of responsibility so essential to the Church’s progress. And although there are few worldly inducements to men to take orders in Ireland, the clergy are, for the most part, the equals of their predecessors in social standing and in intellectual equipment, while the standard of clerical activity is higher than in pre-Disestablishment days. On the other hand, the vesting of patronage in large bodies like synods, or (as is the case in some districts) in nominators with little knowledge of the Church beyond the borders of their own parish, is not an ideal system, although it is working better as the dangers of parochialism and provinciality are becoming more generally recognized than in the early years of Disestablishment.
The finances are controlled by the Representative Church Body, to which the sum of £7,581,075, sufficient to provide life annuities for the existing clergy (2043 in number), amounting to £596,913, was handed over by the Church Temporalities Commissioners in 1870. So skilfully was this fund administered, and so generous were the contributions of clergy and laity, at and since Disestablishment, that while on 31st December 1906 only 136 annuitants were living, the total assets in the custody of the Representative Church Body amounted at that date to £8,729,941. Of this sum no less than £6,525,952 represented the free-will offerings of the members of the Church